Fair Oaks Dairy Farm Tour

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Anyone who drives between Indianapolis and Chicago should know well the billboards advertising Fair Oaks Dairy Farm that sideline I-65. I’ve personally driven past the exit for Fair Oaks Farms a countless number of times, always with a thought in my mind to stop and visit. Two weekends ago, I finally made good on that thought.

Located in northwest Indiana, this dairy farm is the “largest agritourism destination in America.” Large doesn’t even begin to describe Fair Oaks Farm. And “agritourism” is somewhat a misnomer, too. In reality, the farm is a massive cow-themed amusement park focused on enticing families (and, more importantly, their kids) to dairy heaven.

There is plenty that could be said of this expansive enterprise, but several resources (see “Further Reading” below) give fair account of what you might expect to see—and feel—if you were to visit Fair Oaks Farm. For now, I’ll simply allow my images give you a visual sneak peak.

Have you visited Fair Oaks Farm? Share your experience in the comments.

FURTHER READING:

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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The barns (on left) house the thousands of dairy cows at Fair Oaks Farm. The brick building (lower right) houses the “milking rotunda.”

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From a panoramic window, visitors can look down upon the entire milking rotunda. TV screens play a video detailing the milking process at the farm.

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Cows enter the milking rotunda, are hooked up to a milking machine, and take a circular ride. The milking machine automatically falls off the udder when there is no more milk. At the end of the “ride,” cows enter back into the barn.

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All of the milk is immediately stored in these large milk tanks, located just off of the milking rotunda.

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Behind the main Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm is a well-manicured “amusement park” arena, complete with games, gardens, and go-karts. On the right, a large cow welcomes visitors to the “Birthing Barn.”

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A large space enclosed with by glass offers a panoramic view to a live birth of a cow.

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A newborn calf drinks from his mother in the stadium-styled “Birthing Barn” at Fair Oaks Farm.

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A baby (female) heifer sits in her shelter outside the main barns at Fair Oaks Farm in Northwest, Indiana. The baby cows stay in these pens for two years after which they are brought in with the larger herd and bred.

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Fair Oaks Farm draws crowds of families to tour the farm, attracting kids with a moon walk and climbing wall outside of their main Visitor’s Center.

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More games and kid-friendly attractions fill the Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm. Kid-centric media (playing on large screens on the milk carton in back) inform kids why drinking milk is important.

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Visitors can try their hand at “milking” a cow (left) and take a ride around the “cow-ousel.”

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Ice cream—and other treats—are available at the Fair Oaks Farm Cafe.

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The gift shop offers patrons a piece of Fair Oaks Farm to take home.

Day Two at Kilpatrick Family Farm

Yesterday I posted about my first day at Kilpatrick Family Farm. For those curious enough about what I did the second day, here is approximately what Day Two looked like.

DAY 2:
7-7:30 am: Unload tomato starter plants from truck and carry into greenhouse.
The Kilpatricks start most of their plants from seed with the exception of a select few, tomatoes being one of them. Michael uses starter-plants grown by a producer in Vermont for his tomatoes. I share this mostly because I found it refreshing to know that getting starter plants is not considered “cheating” in the farming world—and sometimes it just makes good business sense!

7:30-9 am: Cultivate rows of lettuce in hoop house.
I learned that “to cultivate” is different from “to weed,” the former is done using a machine and/or tool and the latter is accomplished by hand. If you cultivate early and often enough, you can simply leave the small weed seedlings mixed in with the soil between the plants. The air will dry out the weeds and the wind will blow them away. Larger weeds, with a stable root system, should be hand-picked and discarded.

9-11 am: Sort last seasons garlic in preparation to make garlic powder.
Just like Day One, only a lot more fun with the company of two other farm crew members.

11-12:30: Remove brush from side of field and load firewood into truck.
This task was by-and-large the most “manual” of all the manual labor and I’m just hoping my biceps grew a smidge from hauling tree branches and logs. Of anything I did while at the Kilpatricks, this task had me asking “Isn’t there a machine for this???”

1-4:15 pm: Wash and sort root vegetables in preparation for market.
The Kilpatricks fashioned quite a remarkable vegetable washing station and seeing it in full-action was quite something.

vegetable_washing_station_kilpatrick_family_farm by Sarah Parisi for This Beautiful Life

The vegetable washing station is comprised of a long, hallow, wooden cylinder about seven feet long and four feet wide. Strung through the top of the tunnel is a simple irrigation pipe. To wash the vegetables, we poured loads of them into the cylinder at the far end. When turned on, the tunnel rotates while water sprays.

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A board placed at the near end of the tunnel keeps the vegetables inside. As the vegetables tumble about, dirt is scrubbed off and the spray of water provides a constant rinse. After a few minutes of tumbling, the trap door is removed and clean veggies tumble out, ready for sorting.

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Washed vegetables are sorted based on their “pretty” factor, with the nice ones being set aside for individual sale at market, seconds being put together and sold as “Soup Bags” and thirds added to the compost bin.

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A bin full of freshly washed black radishes (yes, radishes!) ready for market.

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Some vegetables need help getting through the washing tunnel. Here, a farm crew member pushes them with a paddle-like “broom.”

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Having been stored for the entire winter, these turnips show a great deal of bruising. Freshly harvested turnips come out of the ground white as snowballs.

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Freshly washed carrots—my new favorite smell!

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Food Now : Kansas City Locavore Event

A great deal has happened—more personally than professionally, I suppose—since the last post. To start with, I had the chance to photograph a great farm-and-food related event in Kansas City this past August.

I was thrilled to be part of such a great event that aspires to educate the local community about the importance of eating healthy, local foods. Farmers from the surrounding area contributed all of the food for the event dinner and local celebrity chefs prepared the fantastic feast. Perhaps best of all, the event took place at an über unique and trendy venue—the 12th St. Bridge in the West Bottoms.

Each year, proceeds from the event go to local not-for-profits working for local, healthier eating. This year’s beneficiaries included Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, The Dream Factory of Greater Kansas City, and The Food Conservancy.

If you live in the KC area, be sure to check out this event for next year. It’s well worth your support!

The Origins of Originality

A few weeks ago I took a day “off” to attend a photography workshop. It was billed as a “day of inspiration” and I looked forward to refueling my think tank after a busy season of wedding work.

Much of the discussion centered on our need to be “original” in our vision and our work. The speaker emphasized time and time again that our work matters only to the degree to which it is original. To make his point, he shared the websites of several artists around the world who are successfully chasing after new ideas—and the subsequent recognition and/or jobs they received from their efforts .

But originality has a short shelf-life. It only takes the next guy to build on your idea for the “original” idea to be left as old and forgotten. In today’s social-media world, this creating and building upon can happen in 15 minute cycles. If the value of our work comes merely from it’s level of originality, than our work suffers from a short shelf-life as well. 

So, rather than leaving the workshop inspired to “be more original”, I left discouraged by the enormous amount of attention originality attracts; the high commodity that originality has become in a culture that is always going after something newer and better. It is impossible to keep up.

I’m now reminded of how the goal of This Beautiful Life is anything but original. The core task—learning how to grow, preserve, and cook and share food—is a task that has been central to man’s existence since our beginning. While new technology has certainly changed the way we farm (sometimes for the best, many times for the worse), farming is never about being original. It’s about submitting to the history of the earth and its ability to produce harvest after harvest after harvest. Farming is about letting go of our need to be original—to do things in a way never before done—and agreeing to work in tandem with nature’s course. And most of all, farming forces us to recognize that no matter how much we “do”, how much “originates” from our labor, it is ultimately God who creates.

What’s more, I like knowing that God does not validate me by my ability to come up with next big idea but rather, He is the crazy idea. His Truth is the origin from which all originality results.

And with Him, my value never expires.